France has banned all indoor gatherings of more than 5000 people as part of efforts to contain the country’s Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Measures announced after an emergency cabinet meeting also included the cancellation of the Paris half-marathon which was to be held on Sunday.

In the worst-hit area, north of Paris, all public gatherings have been banned.

The total number of cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus in France rose to 73 on Saturday. Two patients have died.

Globally, about 83,650 cases have been confirmed in more than 50 countries. The death toll is over 2900.

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“Our goal at this stage is limit the spread,” Health Minister Olivier Véran said after Saturday’s cabinet meeting.

Among the events affected by the prohibition of large indoor gatherings is Paris’s annual agricultural fair. Its final day, which was scheduled for Sunday, has been cancelled.

The Paris half-marathon was scrapped as part of a new ban on events that involve “mingling with people from areas where the virus is prevalent”.

The French area with most cases is Oise, north of Paris. Most of the 18 infections there appear to be linked to a 60-year-old schoolteacher who died of the Covid-19 respiratory disease earlier this week.

Public gatherings have been banned in Oise, as well as a town in the French Alps where cases have been reported.

The government has urged residents of the worst-hit areas to avoid “non-essential travel” and “work from home if possible”.

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Other Covid-19 developments around the world:

  • South Korea, which has the highest number of cases outside China, mobilised the army on Saturday. Soldiers have been disinfecting large parts of Daegu, the south-eastern city that has been at the centre of the country’s coronavirus outbreak
  • In Italy, Europe’s worst-affected country – with 650 cases and 17 deaths – five Serie A football games have been postponed. The games were going to be played behind closed doors, but the league decided on Saturday to call them off
  • Iran on Saturday said the total number of infections there had reached 593, with 43 deaths
  • Qatar reported its first case after a 36-year-old Qatari woman who was evacuated to the country from Iran tested positive for the virus, according to state media
  • Three more patients from England tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of UK cases to 23
  • Officials in the US states of California, Oregon and Washington State reported three cases where patients had no known connection to a badly hit country. The announcements raised concerns the virus could be spreading within the community
  • Factory activity in China fell to a record low in February as manufacturers closed their operations to contain the spread of the disease. Nasa said an economic slowdown following the outbreak was “at least partly” linked to significant decreases in nitrogen oxide over the country
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– BBC